by Chas Withers

June 29, 2020

It seems like these days our world is in constant limbo. From the start of 2020, all eyes have been on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and what it means for our health, our business, our employees, our kids and our home life.

Many businesses are having tough conversations about transitioning their remote business back to some form of an office setting, and the challenges that coincide with these choices. That was the topic of our second Brainfood session, Back to the Office: Balancing Experience, Culture and Safety. With the help of our panel of experts:

Denise Ali
Chief Human Resources Officer
YMCA of Greater Cleveland

Tamara Hagerty
Division HR Manager
Parker Hannifin Corporation
President, Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management Board of Trustees

Ethan Karp
President and Chief Executive Officer
Chair, Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Workforce Development Board

we had an engaging, thoughtful and frank discussion about what other organizations are thinking as they plan, phase or hold off on their return to the office. Here were some major takeaways to consider as you decide what your own return to office plan looks like:

  • The way we work is fundamentally changing. The world looks profoundly different today than it did even six months ago. Our world and technological advances are carving an inevitable path in the rising popularity of remote work, and it might have taken a pandemic to force us to realize that an 8:00am to 5:00p.m. job in a physical office might be a thing of the past. According to a recent Vox article, 74 percent of organizations, like Twitter, plan to shift some employees to a remote work environment permanently, while a study done by Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 30 percent of the entire workforce will be working from home at least a couple days a week even when the pandemic is over.
  • Find what works for your organization. Every organization is singular in some way – while many have been able to adapt to some kind of remote work for their employees, others say it’s just not possible. In addition to work obligations, we are also confronted with the reality that it is hard to recreate office culture and camaraderie in a remote setting. Even if you are heading back to the office, how do you do that safely? There is a lot to think about when you layer operational, financial, cultural, wellness and morale implications, but there is also mounting expertise and planning willingly shared by many organizations. Above all, flexibility and adaptability will be the rules of the road for the foreseeable future…
  • The reminder that your people remain your most critical asset. This was one of the most encouraging themes of this session. One small silver lining from COVID-19 is that for many organizations, this has given way to a real opportunity to take a pause and consider the health, safety, productivity and happiness of your employees. Many of our panelists brought up their given leadership team’s decisions to put employee engagement surveys on hold so their employees can focus on their wellbeing. Small changes can really make employees felt heard and appreciated. Our president, Lisa Rose, wrote about the power of compassion during this time, and that is something that really resonated during this conversation. Find comfort in flexibility, innovation and creativity – these are uncharted waters that are going to require a different approach to meet the needs of your people.
  • Communication is paramount. All three of our panelists agreed that deliberate, cadenced and consistent communication are essential in a remote working environment – employees rely on this communication and transparency to make sure that their health is a priority to their organization, and as Denise Ali put it, a mechanism to explain the “whys.” It’s worth remembering the adage that “in the absence of information, people will invent their own.” For more information on what you can do right now to help properly communicate to your employees at this time, check out this blog from our Senior Vice President Karin Bonev.

It is so rare for the entire globe to experience a coalescing element like COVID-19 at the same moment in time – going through similar experiences while trying to navigate what’s around the next corner. Even in our corner of the world, it is affirming to remember that others are thinking about the same issues, and that we have developed a community to openly share ideas and best practices to broach some of these difficult challenges with no real answer.

We hope to continue this discussion and other topics in future Brainfood sessions. Is there a topic you’d like to learn more about? Let us know by filling out this brief survey.

We look forward to seeing you at our next session.